Michael Gayoso first came to southeast Kansas in 2000.

Just nine years later, the first-generation Cuban-American was elected Crawford County Attorney.

Michael Gayoso first came to southeast Kansas in 2000.

Just nine years later, the first-generation Cuban-American was elected Crawford County Attorney.

Gayoso is just one of a growing number of Hispanic Americans that live in Crawford County. According to recent numbers from the U.S. Census, about 5 percent of the county’s population is of Hispanic-American origin.

“If there’s something I’ve realized, it’s that this is a community made up of many different backgrounds, and I’ve always felt welcome here,” Gayoso said.

Of the 37,000 residents of Crawford County, 1,762 are Hispanic or Latino. Latinos make up the largest portion of minorities in the county, with African Americans having 785 residents.

Even other Hispanic Americans have noticed a surge in population over the last few years in the area.

“Especially at Wal-Mart, you see more people,” said Miguel Fernandez, owner of Fernandez’s Market at 307 N. Elm in Pittsburg. “Even at church, we started with about five and now there are about 150 that are going on Sundays.”

One question is what is the reason for the population expansion in Hispanic Americans, not just in Crawford County, but across the state. According to 2010 figures, the Hispanic American population has grown by 200,000 since 1980 and is expected to grow by another 200,000 by 2030.

“Jobs are No. 1,” Fernandez said. “Without a job, people won’t come here.”

Fernandez opened his grocery store near the corner of Elm and Fourth after being laid off from his industrial job in Pittsburg. Although the store has only been open since May, he said he has noticed an increase in business over that time.

Growth and the law
Before being elected as the county attorney in 2009, Gayoso served a base of minority clients.

However, after being elected he could no longer serve in that capacity, leaving a need for Latino legal representation.

Enter in Josh Scott, a recent graduate of Washington University’s School of Law.

Scott, who is originally from Minneapolis, Minn., saw a job posting for a lawyer at Wilbert and Towner P.A. in Pittsburg and he decided to give it a shot.

Upon discovering that Scott — who is African American — is also bilingual, speaking Spanish and some Portuguese, the need that Gayoso had filled for years was suddenly passed down to Scott.

“They (Wilbert & Towner) told me they had conceived using my bilingual abilities,” Scott said.

Not a problem for Scott, who was looking for a job, but also realized the need for representation in the area for Latinos.

“I think it is a benefit,” Scott said. “There are people who will benefit from getting legal counsel and this is something that I have really taken an interest in.”

Even with the population growth, Gayoso said that the crime has not followed. The largest crime among Hispanics is identity theft. That crime is mainly attributed to illegal immigrants in the area.

“We do see a lot of that,” Gayoso said.

The identity theft usually consists of a phony driver’s license, in the event they happen to be illegal. The common method of stopping the identity theft is through traffic stops.

Where to go from here
The Latino population is growing and, according to Adrienne Foster, executive director of the Kansas Hispanic & Latino American Affairs Commission, it is only going to increase.

“By 2030, we expect to have close to 500,000 Hispanics in Kansas,” Foster said. “Based on our agriculture and our meat packing plants … that is a direct link. Kansas has the DREAM Act also.”

However, people like Fernandez said that Latinos need to be smart in regard to families.

“In my generation, we’re thinking of about having 2-3 children and that’s all,” Fernandez said. “My dad’s generation were thinking more like 7-8.

“We have to be smart about how we do things. We have to think about the future and how I can pay for my kids to go to college.”

Despite the fact that Crawford County is not even in the top 10 in any minority category in the state, even southeast Kansas is seeing an increase in minorities.

Even Gayoso said that the county and the state have done well with finding and providing services necessary to minorities.

“Ever since we moved here there have been resources dedicated to the growing Hispanic population,” Gayoso said.

And with the increase, he said that Hispanic Americans are no longer referred to as the forgotten population in Kansas.

“That may have been the case 15 years ago,” Gayoso said. “But even in politics, candidates recognize they importance of things like the Latino vote.”

Determining just how the minority population will grow in Crawford County is difficult to say, but one thing is certain — Hispanic Americans in place now are very welcoming of new Latinos to the area.

“I’m Hispanic and a business owner … of course I want to see more,” Fernandez said.

Matthew Clark can be reached at matthew.clark@morningsun.net or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 139

MINORITIES IN CRAWFORD COUNTY County 1,762 785 35,685 Pittsburg 1,350 662 17,621 Girard 76 49 2,632 Frontenac 72 18 3,282 Arma 40 1 1,437 Franklin 5 4 356 Chicopee 7 3 398 Cherokee 11 1 685 Baker Twp. 91 24 3,261 Wash. Twp. 68 18 3,375 Mulberry 18 3 467 Sheridan Twp. 25 3 1,411 Crawford Twp. 3 4 895 Sherman Twp. 2 0 514 Walnut Twp. 14 0 567 Grant Twp. 2 0 224 Lincoln Twp. 30 4 779 Osage Twp. 11 0 667